Month: June 2011

Federal Judge Prohibits Prayer at Texas Graduation Ceremony

A federal judge has ordered a Texas school district to prohibit public prayer at a high school graduation ceremony.

Chief U.S. District Judge Fred Biery’s order against the Medina Valley Independent School District also forbids students from using specific religious words including “prayer” and “amen.”

The ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by Christa and Danny Schultz. Their son is among those scheduled to participate in Saturday’s graduation ceremony. The judge declared that the Schultz family and their son would “suffer irreparable harm” if anyone prayed at the ceremony.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the school district is in the process of appealing the ruling, and his office has agreed to file a brief in their support.

“Part of this goes to the very heart of the unraveling of moral values in this country,” Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott told Fox News Radio, saying the judge wanted to turn school administrators into “speech police.”

“I’ve never seen such a restriction on speech issued by a court or the government,” Abbott told Fox News Radio. “It seems like a trampling of the First Amendment rather than protecting the First Amendment.”

Judge Biery’s ruling banned students and other speakers from using religious language in their speeches. Among the banned words or phrases are: “join in prayer,” “bow their heads,” “amen,” and “prayer.”

He also ordered the school district to remove the terms “invocation” and “benediction” from the graduation program.

“These terms shall be replaced with ‘opening remarks’ and ‘closing remarks,’” the judge’s order stated. His ruling also prohibits anyone from saying, “in [a deity’s name] we pray.”

Should a student violate the order, school district officials could find themselves in legal trouble. Judge Biery ordered that his ruling be “enforced by incarceration or other sanctions for contempt of Court if not obeyed by District official (sic) and their agents.”

The Texas attorney general called the ruling unconstitutional and a blatant attack from those who do not believe in God — “attempts by atheists and agnostics to use courts to eliminate from the public landscape any and all references to God whatsoever.”

“This is the challenge we are dealing with here,” he said. “(It’s) an ongoing attempt to purge God from the public setting while at the same time demanding from the courts an increased yielding to all things atheist and agnostic.”

Ayesa Khan, an attorney representing the student and his parents, told KABB-TV she was delighted in the judge’s decision.

“It caused him a great deal of anxiety,” she said, referring to her teenage client. “He has gone to meet with the principal to try and talk in a civilized way about long-standing problems, and the school district has continued to thumb its nose.”

The judge did grant students permission to make the sign of the cross, wear religious garb or kneel to face Mecca. But that’s not good enough for some students at the high school.

“It’s just a big surprise that one kid can come in and change what’s been a tradition since Medina Valley started,” student Abigail Russell told KABB-TV.

Fellow student Alicia Jade Geurin agreed.

“At graduation, I would love to be able to speak from my heart,” she told the TV station. “But in this situation I feel my freedom of speech and my First Amendment is being infringed upon if I can’t say what I feel.”

But the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, hailed the judge’s decision.

“This is a high school graduation,” he told Fox News Radio. “It is not a church service.”

Lynn was critical of the attorney general’s allegation that the ruling was an attempt to purge Christianity from the public square.

“Any attorney general worth his salt would know that’s the issue and that this is not about promoting atheism,” he said. “That’s ludicrous.”

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‘God’ Motto on Election Stickers Stirs Controversy in Ohio

Voting stickers on election day are common and popular in Ohio, but when it comes to including the state’s motto, “With God, All Things are Possible,” on them, it has generated controversy in the Buckeye state.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office has proposed six designs, two of which have the state motto across the bottom. The Secretary of State’s office designed all six of the proposed stickers in-house.

Matt McClellan, a Husted spokesman, told The Christian Post the idea for the stickers came from Secretary Husted’s “Grads Vote Ohio” program. The secretary has been visiting with high school students who are currently or nearing voting age and encouraging them to register and participate in the election process.

“Secretary Husted has been educating students on the importance of voting and felt the stickers would motivate others to vote on Election Day,” McClellan said. “The secretary believes it’s important to get the youth of Ohio registered and for everyone who is registered to vote during each election cycle.”

McClellan also added Husted’s office had received only a “handful” of comments on the six designs, some supporting the inclusion of the motto and others opposing its use.

“It’s certainly not trying to push anything on anyone,” said McClellan.

In 2001, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Ohio state motto as constitutional.

Catherine Turcer, legislative director for Ohio Citizen Action, a government watchdog group, told The Christian Post her organization was concerned that voters of all religions wouldn’t feel welcome and included when visiting polling locations.

“It’s our state motto. In many ways it makes sense to include it, but it’s one thing to have the motto, it’s another thing to use it,” said Turcer. “Because stickers are important to Ohio voters, we want a sticker that is inclusive and makes everyone comfortable, regardless of their religious beliefs. Stickers are an important part of our culture.”

From now through August 8, residents are encouraged to vote for their favorite design and then “endorse” their preferred sticker by sharing it on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter.

According to the site, “The sticker that earns the popular vote will be the one distributed to Ohio voters at the polls this November 8, 2011.”

As of Tuesday morning, about 13,000 votes have been cast. The sticker currently in first place with about 43 percent of the vote is the “I love Voting” sticker that does not include the state motto. The two stickers that include the motto across the bottom are in second and third place with about 18 and 15 percent of the vote, respectively.

Ohio residents are encouraged to visit to cast their vote.

Courtesy of